Modernism was posited on the belief that the present - what was
happening now, the activities of city and country life, the lives,
loves and foibles of everyday people - was central. History was
swept aside and art never looked back.
The materiality of painting became paramount, each brushstroke
standing proud rather than blended to an even gradation of tones.
Artists experimented with form, space, light and colour, creating
new languages of expression.
Each new development built on the one before.
Post-Impressionists rejected the luminous light-dabbed views of the
Impressionists, concentrating on boldly defining form, and often
using synthetic paints. The Pointillists used dabs rather than
brushstrokes of colour, while the Fauves (wild beasts) chose a
deliberately bright, unnatural palette. In the first decade of the
20th century, the Cubists broke down objects into fragmentary parts
within an indeterminate space, which the viewer's eye then
're-formed' into identifiable everyday objects. The Surrealists
made their focus the subconscious mind and the secret world of
Paris had a pivotal role as the centre for modernist art and
literary debate. It became a melting pot of émigré artists drawn to
its vibrant atmosphere and avant-garde approaches to art. Many
British artists visited France, absorbing and adapting what they
learned, but modernism in Britain only took off after the
Post-Impressionist exhibition in London in 1908. Artists developed
their own way of working, creating paintings and sculptures that
spoke of their own political and social mores, defined within a
Until October 2012
Image: Frances Hodgkins, Spanish Shrine, 1933-1935, oil
on canvas, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1954